The legal battle over the Obama administration’s cornerstone action to confront climate change, the Clean Power Plan, marked another milestone on Tuesday when opponents and supporters alike got their day in court in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
States, led by West Virginia, and industry groups challenged the rule, which requires the electric power sector to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 32% by 2030. They claimed the federal government has overstepped its authority in regulating such a significant portion of the U.S. economy, among other technical, legal arguments. The U.S. EPA, Department of Justice, environmental organizations, many other states, and several cities defended the rule; I think the defenders have the law right.
We won’t know the outcome from the courtroom drama for months while the D.C. Circuit determines its ruling. But does it matter? For perceptual, political and some practical reasons, yes. But on the whole, the ruling may not be as important as some are making it out to be.
A decision allowing the rule to go forward would show the world that the U.S. is serious about upholding its commitments made in Paris last December at a time when countries are deciding if and how they will follow through. And, it would surely make it more difficult for a Republican Congress and a potential Trump administration to halt EPA implementation. Having no legal justification to do so, they would no doubt face law suits from environmental advocates that press the EPA to move forward.
Such a ruling would also support the basic tenor of a majority of Americans. According to a recent poll conducted by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 65% of Americans think climate change is a problem that the government needs to address. Most also support federal regulations—like the Clean Power Plan—that would decrease U.S. coal consumption…